Talented writer/translator Tenzin Dickie has just come out with a new anthology of Tibetan short stories: Old Demons, New Deities: 21 Short Stories from Tibet with OR Books. This collection brings together fiction from Tibetans living in occupied Tibet and those of us writing in exile.
For someone who has lived apart from my ancestral land for my entire life against my choice, this book represents an important unification with my fellow Tibetan writers.
For a nation that now lives only in the imagination, for writers who all live outside the Tibet of our past, I love the poetry of claiming that all of 21 stories come “from Tibet.” This declaration is bold and heartening.
Storytelling is an ancient practice, but it has become a popular word lately.
It seems that everyone — from marketing/branding professionals to leadership trainers, political movers and shakers, academics, techies, and even counter-terrorism agencies — is interested in storytelling and more broadly, the power of narratives. Each group uses storytelling to serve its own interests and further its agenda. Story then serves as a tactical tool.
As someone who taught rhetoric and persuasive writing for years, I recognize this desire to use storytelling as a persuasive tool. Something that is, at the best of times, used to convince people. And at a worst of times, to manipulate or deceive. How do we use emotional story arcs, characters, conflict etc. to make people buy our product/ideology/candidate etc.
But at the end of the day, we cannot talk about story without thinking about power.
For the environmental movement, too, there is also growing awareness of the critical power and factor of narrative. At Greenpeace, the Story Team is interested in building a truly democratic, inclusive and ground-up process for storytelling.
Everyone has a story about election night. I was in Prague as the ballots were being counted, and in Moscow as the news of Trump’s victory sunk in.
As the votes came in, I had just finished a two-day pilot storytelling workshop for the Greenpeace Czech office, and was settling in at a nearby bar with my colleagues to have a few pints. In that basement bar, we talked about activism in Czechia. About the debacle of the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Prague — when expressions of support for Tibet were stifled throughout the city. We debated about whether or not we could make compromises to our principles in order to “exist” in difficult states; we talked about the post-Soviet psyche and the decline of activism in Czechia.
This past month, I read from my novel to two very different audiences. The first was at The Rubin Museum in New York City as part of an event called Writing Sacred Lhasa.
Reading there with two fellow Tibetan women writers I admire in so many ways, Tenzin Dickyi and Sonam Tsomo, was especially meaningful to me. Although I’ve read with these two women in the past in informal spaces of our own creation to members of our community (ie. often a restaurant), reading our works to a mostly white audience in a space that collects, stores, and presents our culture left me with many mixed emotions and questions — something I will write about one day.
Most of all though, I was grateful to the good people at The Rubin for giving us that space and opportunity to share our work and talk about ourselves as writers and women and Tibetans.
At the end of the month, I read at the KGB Bar in the east village with my fellow artists-in-resident at OMI International. In just a few short weeks, I’ve become close friends with these writers from Indonesia, Catalonia, Jamaica, Switzerland, Finland, Wales, France, Zambia, and the US. I hope we get to cross paths again and again.
My favorite readings that night were the funny and moving poems of Catalan writer Anna Aguilar-Amat and American writer Tung-Hui Hu. Check out their work!
About a year ago, the British publisher House of Zeus reached out to me to see if I wanted to submit a piece to an anthology about Nepal. I shared some stories with them, and they selected “The Greatest Tibetan Ever Born,” which was originally published by Himal SouthAsian — a wonderful and much-needed magazine that sadly stopped running a few months ago.
The story itself is set in Toronto and Nepal, and became the germ of my novel-in-progress. Although the characters and comedic style didn’t make it into my book, the worlds they occupy still ground Transference.
Well eventually I forgot all about the anthology. And when I saw my friend Muna Gurung post that her story had come out in it, I congratulated her — not realizing that my own story was in there as well. Anyway, the anthology, House of Snow, came out in August. I’m so grateful and happy to be among some writers I admire from Nepal and elsewhere.
Since my last post, I attended another writing retreat (this time at Catwalk), completely restructured my novel, and started a new job as “Story Advisor” at Greenpeace International. It’s a dream position in every way. I spend my days doing conceptual narrative work, teaching storytelling to activists, and also taking part in concrete campaigning to save the planet. After years in academia, in a world of ideas and rhetoric, the thought that the work I do could actually matter and have real impact is kind of incredible.
Eager to dive in and understand the world of Greenpeace, I set my book aside for a few weeks. But about a month into my job, I started to feel anxious. A part of my anxiety came from being away from my book. But another, more worrying part, came from realizing that I could just stop working on it completely.
I’ve just returned from an artist residency in rural Oregon. Arriving at Redmond Airport, I met a fellow resident (and now friend), rented a car, and drove with her for two hours until our cell phone signals disappeared. The drive to Summer Lake featured long stretches of empty desert roads flanked by enormous mountains sweeping up to the sky.
As we drove, I kept remarking at how this, this scale, this emptiness, looked like America, or at least the one I had imagined growing up in Nepal, and my friend, also from half way around the world, agreed and shared her own misconceptions about the country that would eventually become home
Then the climb began and so did the switchbacks and the reminder that we were playing with death. The sun set before us and suddenly we were in the pitch dark, making calculations about which shade of blue signified sky and which the ground. Finally, just after we narrowly avoided hitting a couple of deer, we reached the residency.